- The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a century-old New York gun law.
- The ruling expands Second Amendment rights, alarming gun-control advocates.
- The decision was 6-3. The court’s three liberal justices dissented.
The Supreme Court on Thursday declared that the US Constitution protected a person’s right to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense purposes, a 6-3 decision that dramatically expanded Second Amendment rights.
The court struck down a century-old gun-permit law in New York that required people seeking a license to carry a gun outside their homes to demonstrate a “proper cause,” or a special reason, for doing so.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s conservative majority supported the view that New York’s rule violated the Constitution.
“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Thomas wrote. “That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self defense.”
The court’s three liberal justices — Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan — dissented.
“Many States have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence just described by passing laws that limit, in
various ways, who may purchase, carry, or use firearms of different kinds,” Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion. “The Court today severely burdens States’ efforts to do so.”
The move delivers a major win to gun-rights activists and a blow to gun-safety advocates, who had pushed for the court to uphold the New York statute as the US experienced an uptick in gun violence.
The landmark decision came 14 years after the nation’s top court last significantly expanded gun rights. In that 2008 ruling, District of Columbia v. Heller, the majority decided that a person had the right to own a gun for personal use in the home, rejecting the decades-old interpretation of the Second Amendment as a collective right to “keep and bear arms” for a “well regulated militia.”
“The argument for the gun-rights advocates is this: The Second Amendment protects a right to keep and bear arms. Heller was about keeping arms. And this is a case about bearing them,” Joseph Blocher, a professor at the Duke University School of Law who is a codirector of the school’s Center for Firearms Law, told Insider ahead of the decision. “Both those words are in the amendment, so they both got to have some meaning.”
The current case was brought by two New York men who applied for state permits to carry concealed guns in public for self-defense and were denied after they failed to meet the “proper cause” standard. Their challenge, backed by the National Rifle Association, claimed the New York law infringed on the Second Amendment.
The court heard arguments for the case in November. At the time, the court’s conservative justices appeared open to tossing out the law, which had been upheld by lower courts.
Legal experts say the ruling is likely to bring more guns into public spaces. Besides New York, at least seven other states — California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Hawaii — have similar concealed-carry-licensing rules. Those states together are home to about 73 million people.
Supporters of gun rights say the decision will allow more people to protect themselves.
“Opponents would say the sky’s going to fall. There’s going to be all this crime in the streets,” Stephen Halbrook, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, said, adding that people who sought permits to carry “don’t have criminal backgrounds.”
“The impact on public safety, if anything I would think, would be positive because then you could have people who are law-abiding with the ability to protect themselves from criminal predators,” Halbrook, the author of “The Right to Bear Arms,” told Insider before the ruling.
Though the decision alters gun laws in several states, numerous legislative actions may be taken in response, according to legal experts. For instance, states could start to pass more “place-based restrictions” on concealed carry in large public areas such as college campuses and sports stadiums, along with smaller settings like bars, Blocher said.
The decision came after a recent string of deadly mass shootings across the country, which have prompted congressional Democrats and Republicans to draft legislation that would combat gun violence after years of inaction.
The bipartisan bill falls short of what President Joe Biden and Democrats have proposed but offers the most significant gun regulations in decades, including tightened background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21, investments in mental health, funds for states to enact “red flag” laws, which grant authorities the power to temporarily confiscate a gun from a person deemed to pose a threat, and closing the so-called boyfriend loophole by putting convicted domestic abusers in a national criminal-background-check system.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, gun-control activists are widely expected to put more pressure on state and national lawmakers to tackle the crisis.